It’s only Monday and things can — and will probably change — but the big “news” to come out of practice for the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday was who received reps with the rest of the starters. Luke Walton said Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (not Lonzo Ball and/or Josh Hart) earned those reps, though he demurred on announcing his starters for Thursday night in Portland against the Trail Blazers.
“Today at practice we started Rondo and KCP,” He said. “We’ll continue to go day-by-day and see how it goes.”
”KCP was great today. He was flying up and down, pretty much did the whole practice. I took him out of the very last scrimmage we did,” Walton added. “Besides that he was full go.”
Walton then expanded on why he went with that combination as the starting backcourt.
”KCP gives us shooting,” Walton said. “He’s a guy that can defend multiple positions, get up and put some pressure on guys and Rondo is an elite point guard in this league. Everyone on our team brings their own things to the table but I’ve liked what I’ve seen out of that group so far.”
So, what will it take to see Lonzo inserted into the starting lineup?
“Whether Lonzo starts or not is going to be based on where we’re at as a team and what’s working for us as a team right now,” Walton said. “He’s looked great, he continues to play better and better and had another solid day today.
“He still needs to be in better shape but he’s getting back to where he needs to be.”
There’s a lot to unpack here, but I think the best place to start is with how most NBA locker rooms work, especially those with playoff expectations. Veterans just tend to get favored because of the politics of the NBA.
Think of it like this: Walton has the front office to answer to — the same front office that signed Rondo (and really wanted Rondo dating back to last summer) and re-signed Caldwell-Pope. This is also not the same front office that hired Walton in the first place. That’s always worth keeping in mind.
Walton may not necessarily have LeBron James to answer to in the same way, but I can guarantee his two cents are taken into account. James has historically preferred to play with veterans. Walton also isn’t a LeBron hire. This is also something you should always keep in mind.
So with that context as background, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that Rondo and KCP are at least getting a chance to show they can work with the starters before an eventual change might be made.
About that change, though, it’s interesting to me that Walton mentions how the team is playing and not how Lonzo himself is playing. This would again give Walton the out of continuing to play Rondo even if (or when) it becomes obvious that Lonzo is the better player — if that isn’t already clear enough right now.
If those mentioned above still have a clear priority, I can’t even hold it against Walton for wanting to preserve his job by working Magic and LeBron, or at the very least and less nefariously, preserve the locker room dynamics with his veteran players.
Don’t get me wrong, if the scenario I outlined above is the reality of the situation, this is dreadful process leading to the incorrect result. But as of right now, this is just how things are. It’s why whenever anyone talks about the Lakers, they need to take into account the politics of the NBA.
This also means Lonzo and Hart are probably going to have to make it painstakingly obvious that they belong on the court more than their veteran counterparts, even if not as starters. It isn’t necessarily fair, but that’s just how this stuff tends to work.
Look, this is all slightly speculative and based on the lineups used on the first Monday after preseason. We very easily could find out that Walton went with a different starting group tomorrow in practice, rendering all these words moot — kind of. Walton is still going to have to navigate the locker room. How he does so and whether he’s willing to stand up for what he thinks is right is going to go a long way in deciding what the Lakers are capable of with him at the helm.
That said, I wouldn’t expect a formal announcement on the starters anytime soon, this is going to be something to watch throughout the season and could vary on a nightly basis. Welcome to the 2018-’19 season, everybody!